Have you ever heard of Dylan Cole? How about Jim Maxwell? Yanick Dusseault anybody? If you're not currently in the movie industry you most likely have not heard of these gentlemen. But I know you've heard of Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Star Wars, Transformers, and The Incredible Hulk. Good! Now we have some context.
These guys are considered matte painters for mega-blockbuster films. What are matte painters? Well...they are an elite group of people who create background paintings for films to otherwise allow infinite possibilities for film travel. If you'd like your audience to go to another planet, hire a matte painter to paint you a scene. If you'd like to save money and not go to New Zealand to film, again, hire a matte painter and you're there. From creating an intricate landscape that's photorealistic to extending a building from 2 stories to 30, matte painters can do it...and with style!
If this idea of becoming a matte painter is of interest to you, let's get into how one becomes the so-called mateis pantificus (haha jk!). There are some qualifications before you should even consider this profession:
- Do you enjoy art? And I don't mean, do you simply like it. I mean, do you stay up late to draw, sketch, or paint? Do you wake up early and that's all you think about doing? Do you do it without thinking about the money? If so, read on my friend.
- Would you rather be drawing characters, automobile concepts, and weapons? Or do you enjoy drawing landscapes, buildings, explosions? If you prefer the latter, you're good. If you prefer the former, try becoming a concept artist instead. You will be much better suited. And you'll enjoy it more too!
- Do you possess the tools for digital art? If not, I would suggest starting with a Wacom Intuos4. This piece of equipment will jumpstart your digital ability in no time. And if you're even more inclined, you could get the Cintiq 21UX and actually draw directly on the screen. If you decide to go this way, you'll definitely need a tablet.
- Another tool you'll need is the Adobe Creative Suite. This contains: Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Acrobat, and Flash Pro. Great deal! But if you solely want to paint, a great program to begin with is Corel Painter. But most matte painters (if not all of them) use Photoshop to do their work.
Okay, so besides the tools and the basic desires to possess, you must also take steps toward your goal to become a matte painter. So listen (I should say read) very carefully. I've read countless articles and interviews, watched videos, and even paid for advice from matte painters. So here are the steps to become a matte painter in a short period of time:
1. PAINT, PAINT, PAINT!
Don't take this step for granted. If you're not currently drawing or painting right now, you'll hate it when somebody makes you do it for a living. So paint until your fingers hurt, and then paint for 10 hours more. If somebody can get calluses for playing the guitar, you better be getting calluses for drawing or painting. But if you can't, then you might not become a matter painter. But if you can, you'll be the best of the best!
2. CREATE THE PERFECT PORTFOLIO
Do this by looking at all of your paintings and finding the absolute best of the them. Remember, quantity is not key, quality is. Take the Pixar example. They are always about qaulity. It is always better to have 5 great matte paintings than to have 5 great paintings and 5 decent ones. Only put your best works in your portfolio. You'll also want to show them your ability by putting in a little variety. And what I mean is: one painting showing that you can add to current paintings (i.e. extending buildings, adding gargoyles to castles, making a plain desert look inhabited, etc.), another painting showing that you can create whole worlds from scratch (i.e. planet landscapes, lava-filled scenes, whatever is interesting to you), and definitely show works that display your sense of composition (i.e. different angles, close-ups, distant shots, etc.).
Your portfolio is your future. Treat it as such!
3. HIRE A REPRESENTATIVE
This industry is quite complicated to enter. You'll want to hire somebody who is already connected with folks in Hollywood. This will give you a huge step ahead of the competition. Dylan Cole speaks of doing this when he first began. It's how he became one of the matte painters for Lord of the Rings. He hired a representative right away, but the agent didn't think it was the right fit for him, so his agent suggested somebody else to work with and BOOM!, next thing he knows, he's on his way to being a very famous matte painter. This step is crucial to entering the Hollywood realm.
4. SHOW YOURSELF WORTHY OF KEEPING
After your representative gets you your first job (even if it's something that you think is cheesy), show yourself a hard worker and a very fast one. If you can produce a dozen quality concepts within 2 weeks time, they won't ever want to find somebody else. And not only that, but if your work is pure genius (which it better be!), you'll continually get better and better work. Ten years down the road and you're the one doing the interviews and teaching others like your current self how to get into the industry. Work hard, persevere, and you'll excel. But hold back your true abilities and you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Please, don't hold back.
5. BE HUMBLE!
I shouldn't have to say this, but when you enter this type of industry it's so difficult to stay humble. When you've got tons and tons of people loving you and your work, looking up to you, paying you boo koo bucks, you'll be tempted to look down on others. Remember this now, DON'T!!! Remember where you came from. Remember that your job and pay isn't who you are. It's the character that comes out through struggles and through triumphant victories which show your true colors.
So if you desire to become a matte painter, that's a great choice of a career. You'll have a satisfying life filled with hard work accomplished, a good income, and notoriety throughout the ages for the movies you were part of. Now go forward and make those dreams happen. And again, if you're not painting, go do it now. And then come back and check out some of the most famous matte painters' sites.
Here's a list of sites for inspiration:
- Dylan Cole
- Jim Maxwell
- Chris Stoski
- Craig Mullins
- CG Society
- Dave Early
- Alp Altiner
- Jaime Jasso
- David Luong
- Syd Dutton (interview)
- Chris Thunig
- Natascha Roeoesli
And that's how to become a matte painter! Enjoy!